Photo by Rana Sweidan Story by Zeina Merhi

August 4 might be an unremarkable date to many in the world, yet now, for the Lebanese, it is seared into their hearts.

The fourth of August was the day when a monstrous explosion occurred in the port of Beirut; the pressure wave from which rolled out across the city taking with it the lives of more than 150 people, while causing injuries to 6,000 more. It was also the day when 300,000 of the city’s residents lost a house which – only that same morning - they had called home.

Thirteen days after the blast, and 45-year-old Jinan has only one wish: “I want to go back to the day before the explosion.” She doesn’t ask for much, she explains. Her desire is a desperate call to substitute a “horrific tragedy” with a “harsh yet more bearable reality.”

“After this tragedy, we no longer have the strength to laugh,” she explains with a sigh.

Karantina has been Jihan’s safe haven for twenty-four years now; it is the place has she called home for so long.

Being less than three kilometres from the port of Beirut, Karantina was one of the hardest-hit areas on August 4. However, the blast’s destruction is not solely responsible for Jihan’s misery today. She and her neighbors are among Lebanon’s most vulnerable that chose to settle in Karantina away from the city’s luxuries. The area is known for its vulnerable population; those whose very vulnerability is now exacerbated due to the tragic event. 

UNDP met Jihan during a field visit initiated to understand the impact of the blast on Beirut’s most vulnerable. As a response to the Beirut port blast, UNDP developed a “leave no one behind” report intended to ensure guiding principles for a people-centric and inclusive recovery which can safeguard the rights of those who suffer most in times of crisis.

“With the focus on assessing damages and on the economic cost of the recovery, we should not forget that the august 4 explosion was above all a human tragedy. Whether mourning their loved ones, caring for their wounds, having lost a home or a livelihood, too many women, men and children are at risk of being left behind by the recovery process. By conducting a LNOB assessment UNDP is seeking to ensure people’s voices are heard; and their rights are safeguarded;” explains Nino Karamaoun, UNDP’s chief technical advisor on Rule of Law and Human Rights.

Jihan’s house was destroyed, and she has little hope of restoring the damage due to her dire financial constraints. “My son was injured. My neighbor is still in the ICU, and a 3-year-old girl in the neighborhood lost her face. People here are devastated, no one was spared material losses or injuries,” she says.

Despite being widowed at a young age, Jihan has managed to raise her four children on her own. Yet she still worries; for Jihan, the situation has become too harsh. With no income, she wonders what the future holds to her and her “orphan children” as she refers to them.

Her house lost half of its roof. “Everything is destroyed. Many people told me the building might collapse, but I’m staying. What other options do I have?” she asks.

According to the LNOB report’s findings, People like Jihan are among those who are most likely to find a harder time to recover from the blast’s impact. The assessment identifies groups that are more prone to remain vulnerable despite recovery efforts, and among these are: women & girls, the elderly, refugee & migrant workers, people with mental & physical disabilities, youth & children. The LNOB report suggests a list of guiding principles that can help in ensuring an inclusive and just recovery process that puts people at the center. Such principles emphasize the need to adopt a “human-centered and data driven process instead of one that is building-centered and reconstruction-based.” It also highlights the need to ensure a participatory approach to recovery, one that guarantees the voices of all the above mentioned groups are heard and that the specific needs of each are responded to.

Just a seven-minute walk away from Jihan’s neighborhood, sits Toufic, a 75-year-old shop owner in Gemmayze. He tells us “This blast blew up sixty years of hard work. It took away a business that was once my source of pride and the source of income for more than two families.”

Toufic never thought the day would come where he’d see the end of six decades of business. “Look at the floor. On each tile, there is an invisible drop of my sweat and my blood that I gave in developing this place,” he says while tears fill his eyes.  Just like any other business owner, Toufic is afraid he might not be able to recoup the losses of the blast.

Thousands of businesses have been destroyed as a result of the August 4 blast, leaving more than 100,000 people without a current income. As a response, UNDP is prioritizing the restoration of livelihoods and small businesses to support people like Toufic and his employees. Achieving this is one of the most urgent needs among a long list of many priorities. Thousands of businesses are unable to resume their operations without aid, therefore supporting these is a must to ensure an adequate recovery that is inclusive of those who lost an income due to the Beirut blast.

Today, the people of Lebanon are in the grip of multi-faceted crises that include a devastating economic crisis, and which is further complicated by a persistent COVID-19 outbreak. “We have been here supporting the people of Lebanon in their efforts to recover from recurring crises for the past five decades,” explains UNDP Country Resident Representative, Celine Moyroud. “With the current set of crises that the country is going through, we are fully committed to supporting Lebanon on an inclusive path to recovery and development that leaves no one behind, and that is attentive to people’s calls for change, greater accountability and transparency.”

Find out more about the LNOB report’s findings: Link to study


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